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Avanti West Coast takes over Virgin Trains rail franchise after pension row

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Avanti West Coast has taken over from Virgin Trains on running the West Coast Main Line.

The new operator plans to refurbish 56 Pendolino trains, with 25,000 new seats, more reliable Wi-Fi, and power sockets for all passengers.

It also promises 263 more weekly services by 2022 when 23 new Hitachi-built trains begin entering service to replace the Voyagers.

The new operator’s parent company is a partnership between Aberdeen-based transport firm FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitalia.

It said passengers would now be able to claim compensation for delays of 15 minutes, compared with the previous criterion of 30 minutes.

Virgin Trains had been the UK’s longest running operator, running the line for 22 years. But its bid was disqualified by the Department for Transport because it did not comply with the government's terms on pension liabilities.

In addition to the trains, Avanti plans to refurbish some of its stations with new waiting rooms, better customer facilities, more car park spaces and greater accessibility for passengers with additional travel needs.

The new franchise is also expected to operate initial HS2 services if the high-speed rail project goes ahead.

Orazio Iacono, managing director of Trenitalia said: “We’re honoured to begin operating intercity services on the West Coast Main Line, one of the busiest railways in Europe, that will bring a host of improvements for the millions of people who use it every year. 

“Trenitalia will also be using its skills to help design and manage high-speed rail services from North to South in the UK over the next few years.”

First Rail operates three other UK rail franchises - Great Western Railway, South Western Railway and TransPennine Express - while Trenitalia also runs trains on the c2c line between east London and Shoeburyness in Essex.

According to a Which? study last year, the South Western Railway and TransPennine Express are some of the worst performers in the UK with just 43 and 44 per cent customer satisfaction ratings respectively. C2C and Great Western fared better with 52 and 47 per cent satisfaction.

The Labour Party has promised to cut rail fares for passengers by a third if it wins the upcoming General Election while the Conservative Party has said it will extend contactless pay-as-you-go ticketing for train journeys across South-East England.

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